Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More about that link ...

... between food and fuel.

This article cites Lester Brown, who wrote Plan B 2.0. It's a very informative book, and an excellent read. He's also come out with Plan B 3.0, but I have not had a chance to read it yet.

Anyways, back to the article. There are many issues with using corn grain as a fuel. One of the main reasons is easily seen in your supermarket. Corn diverted to fuel affects more than just the price of corn for consumption. Corn is used as feed for cattle, poultry, and swine. The article relates the following ...
Now, however, the legislation is being criticized for making food more expensive while gasoline prices continue to climb. Rick Perry, a Republican who succeeded Bush as Texas governor, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive half of the "misguided" ethanol requirements because of rising food costs; every penny increase in per-bushel corn prices costs his state's livestock industry $6 million a year, he said.
That increase in cost is eventually transferred to the consumer. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of looking at $7.99/lb for a London Broil and $4.99/lb for chicken breast meat. Matter of fact, I got so tired of it that my wife and I have gone to a mostly vegetarian diet. Fortunately for both of us, there is a farmer's market not too far from my place of employment, and we don't mind eating a lot of vegetables. The loss of corn from the food market also has the effect of placing greater strain on the other food grains. While I'm no economist, I imagine that's at least part of the reason we're seeing an increase in the price of wheat (flour), and rice. As we consume more of these staples, as replacements for corn, our demand for them increases their prices as well. It's a vicious cycle.

Then there is the little nagging fact that corn ethanol might not really be the silver bullet when it comes to saving us from high fuel prices. Why? There just isn't enough of it. Look at the following figure, provided by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Economics Department report 25 x 25 (25% Renewable Energy for the United States by 2025).

That yellow section at the bottom is corn grain (when looking at the report, this figure is found on page 33, it's Figure 11). Through 2025, you can notice that there really isn't an appreciable increase in the amount of corn grain over the next 15 years. Instead, we really need to be looking at the dedicated energy crops (the green section on the chart). Unfortunately, they're not really expected to come online for another 5 years or so. This is, in part, due to the need for increased efficiency for cellulosic ethanol production. One question that can be asked however is, is that even necessary? Thermochemical processes can be brought to bear today, and those crops, which are already being (or are) planted could be used in gasification. Production of methane from that process could be scrubbed clean, essentially becoming "natural gas". Compressed (CNG) and Liquid (LNG) Natural Gas are already used in vehicles across the country. T. Boone Pickens, an oil magnate in Oklahoma has suggested that NG be used on his own website.
While chairman of the National Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition for almost three years, Pickens traveled the country advocating the merits of natural gas. When he left Mesa Petroleum and its management wanted to divest of the natural gas fueling concerns, he purchased them and in 1997 formed Pickens Fuel Corp. He touted natural gas as the best alternative vehicular fuel because it’s a domestic resource that reduces our foreign oil consumption, and enhances America’s energy security; clean (NGV vehicles emit up to 95 percent less pollution than gasoline or diesel vehicles); less expensive than petroleum and hydrogen; and safe (lighter-than-air compressed natural gas is nontoxic and disperses quickly, and has a higher ignition temperature than gasoline and diesel fuel, which reduces the chances of accidental ignition).
Obviously, we're going to experience some growing pains, as we change our infrastructure to adapt. The question is, are we as scrappy and as resourceful as previous generations seem to have been? Honestly, I think it'd be easy for the government to help out as well, when you consider where all our tax dollars are currently being spent. You know this "economic stimulus package"? Why not save that and give it as a tax credit for people who would convert their existing gasoline car into a LNG car instead? I believe the conversion kit costs between $1.5K and $2K. Don't you think that would boost the economy a bit as well? I think there is hope for our country, but this isn't going to be an easy fix. I think the younger generations are ready to make this change, the question is ... are the Baby Boomers? They're the largest voting bloc this election year.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm a baseball fan ...

... but Todd Jones is a nincompoop. This is what sticks in my craw.
You’ve stuck around long enough to figure out that your career is not about you; it’s about your teammates and how you leave the game. If somehow you made it better for somebody, you’ve done your job.
I guess when one makes $7,000,000 for playing a game, one can afford to say that. Then again, maybe that "somebody" he's talking about is himself.

For only $10,000 ...

... you too can make ethanol for $1 a gallon with the E-Fuel Microfueler.

As mentioned in the article, there are some problems with this approach:
  1. 100% EtOH is illegal as fuel in the United States.
  2. Where are you going to buy all this sugar? South of the border*?
  3. $1/gallon, until you remember you paid 10K for the device!
  4. How does this really differ from other stills which are really cheap to make? Is squeezing out that last 5% of water actually that much of a problem for the folks who make grain alcohol?
*Inside joke for anyone who travels I-95. South of the Border is a [tourist attraction/eyesore/pimple on the ass of South Carolina/however you view it] that sits about a mile south of the North Carolina border. You can't miss it. You definitely can't miss it because Pedro starts advertising for his place about 90 miles out. Jimminy Christmas, it's annoying. They also claim to sell just about everything and anything.

My apologies ...

... for having my site be IE unfriendly. I just noticed today that my PNG header didn't exactly work in IE. I've converted it to GIF format, and it seems things are working for IE now. Of course, I don't usually use IE, preferring FireFox myself. So, if you're on IE and the site looks wacky, let me know and I'll look into it. Sorry for the ugliness.


What Would Buffalo Bill Do?

Well, he'd probably shoot the poor things. However, I do think it's a shame that these animals are restricted in what they do naturally. I also wonder how much of a threat brucellosis actually is. Then there is the fact that there are only approximately 2,500 of the beasts today, which doesn't seem to bode too well either. It's claimed that they're healthy (even though almost a 1,000 died of starvation this past winter), but what sort of diversity in the gene pool can be expected when the numbers are so low?

Monday, April 28, 2008


That's what one energy analyst calls the proposed fuel tax holiday. I mean, what's a fuel tax holiday going to save me? 20 cents per gallon? Big whoop. So I save $2 every week when I go to the pump. The holiday is longer than I expected however. It's supposedly proposed to run from Memorial Day through Labor Day. I just don't think, like most things politicians propose today, that it's going to make any major impact. Better yet, why not take that tax money (supposedly it'll add up to $10 billion dollars) and divert it towards research? We send about that much money to Iraq in a week.

A thank you to Illusory Tenant!

For those of you coming here thanks to the plug I received from Illusory Tenant, I bid you a warm welcome! A thanks to I.T. for the plug and prop, and I'll try to return the favor for my more liberal, atheistic, evil twin here. For all of you visiting, I hope you find something of use, and you return. If not often, at least on occasion.

As Dave E. Smalley would say ...

The survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature, but the fittest are rarely the strong. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable and conform to the unavoidable, to harmonize with existing or changing conditions.
Obviously, in this blog, I've spoken about how we're going to have to adjust our lifestyles because for the short term (looking out to the next 5 to 10 years) fuel prices are going to be high, much higher than we're used to. We need to pick a route (or routes), do the research, build up the infrastructure, and then mass produce it (along with about a thousand other things I'm probably overlooking). And while we're at it, we're going to have to accept that food prices are going to be much higher than we're used to as well. Not that I want to be all doom and gloom, but for those of us who have been voting for any length of time, this is a bed we've made for ourselves. We didn't demand policies to develop alternative energies, we didn't demand policies to develop better agricultural methods, we didn't demand policies to help reduce green house gases and trade credits on a world market so that our agriculture and industries could properly trade on those markets. We didn't do it, and now it's come to bite us in our obese asses. So, time to shed those extra pounds, make our bed ... and sleep in it for the foreseeable future.

I came across this interesting tidbit ...

... as I was putting together the introduction for a proceedings paper I'm currently writing. According to the Final Report to the DOE (Department of Energy) by the PETC (Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center), they figured that based on the operating costs incurred by generating 60 grams of algae/meter squared/day and selling the resulting energy at $0.065/kWhr that the cost of a barrel of algal oil would be between $39 and $42 dollars depending on where you got your carbon dioxide from (pure versus captured flue gas).

A link to the final report (PDF) is provided.

Of course, during the same time (1996), a barrel of crude oil was in the range of $20/barrel, making the venture too expensive. Ten years later, the old 1990's algal technology would be turning a hefty profit when compared to current crude oil prices.

I agree with Glenn Beck ...

... finding alternative fuels is a matter of national security.

Take a look at the top five countries we currently rely on for oil imports. You tell me if these are the five you would choose if you were creating your own world superpower from scratch: Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela.

Aside from Canada, that's not exactly a "Who's Who" list of stable, America-loving countries.

And if you think I cut off the list at five because the next five are so friendly, think again. Here's the next five: Iraq, Angola, Kuwait, Colombia, Ecuador.

I'm gonna do it!

I've been procrastinating, partly because I'm a lazy bum, partly because ... well, I'm a lazy bum. Along with just about everyone else, I'm floored by the price of gas, and it's killing me. So, I've been looking at other, inexpensive, options. I'm not looking to buy a new vehicle, partly because I don't want to deal with payments, and partly because I want to see where the market goes in terms of new technology. No point in getting a flex fuel vehicle (FFV) only to see the market turn to electric. No point going electric only to see newer more efficient models three years later.

With that said, my options were as follows. 1. A motorcycle. Chicks dig motorcycles, right? Maybe, but my wife ... not so much. If I were to buy a motorcycle, I'd have to take a safety class (her request) which isn't so bad. The local community college offers one. 2. A scooter. There are some cool looking Schwinn scooters, that run around $1.2k to $3k. They seem to get great gas mileage too. One of them purportedly can get 180mpg with a 200lb load. Not bad. But do I want to waste my entire "economic stimulus check" on a scooter? 3. A set of new tires for my mountain bike.

Well, I think I'm going to go with option #3. I did this once before when I was living in Illinois, but a slow leak served to be a major pain in my rear and I stopped after about a week. I live about 8 miles from work, some of it without much shoulder but if I leave early enough, I should avoid most traffic. None of it is really major road. So, maybe this weekend I'll buy a new set of tubes for my slicks (with the green slime in it, if I develop yet another set of slow leaks), install them and start biking to work. I figure it should save me around $25 dollars a week. So the first week alone, if you figure the tubes will cost me about $8/tube, I should save approximately $9. And I might even lose some of this gut in the process.

Putting things in perspective

I've tried to do it here before, but if you won't listen to me ... listen to this.

Solar Power

Thin-Film Solar Cells.

From the article:
Thin-film solar cells may be the answer: One recently converted 19.9 percent of the sunlight that hit it into electricity, surpassing the amount converted into power by mass-produced traditional silicon photovoltaics and offering the potential to unleash this renewable energy source.
A link to a NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) report is also provided here.

From what I've read, the typical conversion rate for solar panels today hovers around 6%, so this shows a 300% increase, with reduced costs for the units as well. If we can "go solar", then the need for liquid fuel for vehicles decreases. An electric recharge unit outside of your house, powered by the sun, which is then used to power your car would be an ideal situation in my mind. Plus, if these thin-film solar cells can be placed onto the roof of a car for additional recharge power of the battery, that would extend the battery charge of the vehicle allowing it to travel further. Question is, how long until things like this go into production for consumer use?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One in the hand ...

According to these two articles:

A couch potato lifestyle may cut your life short.

Except ...

If you're watching a lot of pornography.

Crazy Eddie!

Must have been infected.

A New Treatment for Diabetes?

The following article talks about a new gel which shows resistance to stomach acid, allowing the insulin to escape into the intestine where it can be released. This is, IMO, an improvement over current treatments, and I'm sure quite a few others might agree.

Here is a link to the actual article, though not everyone may have access to it, so I'll quote a portion of the conclusions.

A novel class of pH-sensitive complexation hydrogels composed of methacrylic acid and functionalized poly(ethylene glycol) tethers, referred to as P(MAA-g-EG) WGA, was investigated as an oral protein delivery system. The PEG tethers were functionalized with wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), a lectin that can bind to carbohydrates in the intestinal mucosa, to improve residence time of the carrier and absorption of the drug at the delivery site. Insulin was effectively entrapped within the polymer network with a loading efficiency of 74%. Release studies with insulin-loaded P(MAA-g-EG) WGA showed that the carrier released less than 10% of the insulin at pH 3.2 after 60 min and 70% of the insulin at pH 7.0 after 60 min. Therefore, P(MAA-g-EG) WGA can protect insulin in the low pH of the stomach and that the pH change between the stomach and the small intestine can be used as a physiologic trigger to quickly release insulin.

A fact that only I might find interesting.

Did you know that the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the in-house scientific agency of the USDA, was responsible for the Roma tomato? Crop improvement research by ARS led to the release of the Roma tomato in 1955. To this day, it is the main tomato used to make tomato paste throughout the world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Biofuels leading to hunger crisis?

The article from CNN.
Those battling global warming by promoting biofuels may unintentionally be adding to skyrocketing world food prices, creating what one expert calls "a silent tsunami" in developing nations.
Also in the article ...
"The drive for more biofuels means more investment is going into those crops, meaning less land and less investment going in for food crops, causing a massive conflict and resulting in rising prices, which is having a huge negative impact, especially on developing countries," Clare Oxborrow, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, told CNN.
That's not entirely true. There are a variety of efforts looking at non-crop biofuels, such as algae. Or synthetic bacteria to make hydrocarbons. There are also efforts to look at non-agricultural lands to grow energy crops. Imagine using land on the side of highways to grow switchgrass for eventual use in cellulosic ethanol production, as an example. I think a balance can be, and will be, struck between the essential needs for fiber, food, and fuel.

An interesting concept ...

... for dissemination of scientific information.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thankfully ....

... the place I work at does not have any elevators.

Terra Preta

The terra preta are some seriously fertile soils in the Amazon Basin. They are a man-made agricultural wonder, made even more amazing by the fact that these soils were created about 9 to 10 thousand years ago.

There is a great BBC documentary called The Secret of El Dorado which discusses the terra preta soils. If you can find the video online, via YouTube or Google Video, it's worth the watch.

Another amazing thing is that we have no idea how they actually did it. Todays scientists are trying to replicate the terra preta using biochar.


I found this article to be very interesting. Not sure what the fish actually tastes like, but it's obvious (at least to me) that current practices will not result in long term options for the fishing industry (while saving the environment).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This is one list ...

... you don't want to be on.

The worst offender: Houston. Followed closely by Los Angeles. I was quite frankly amazed that the New York Metro area ranks 19th.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Switchgrass to EtOH - Costs

Article here.

Based on the $50-per-ton figure, and assuming a conversion efficiency of 80 to 90 gallons per ton, the farmgate production cost of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass would be about $0.55 to $0.62 per gallon.

Those numbers aren't bad. They also feel that they'll be able to improve on those numbers given enough time to breed cultivars which will be more favorable for the cellulosic conversion process. It's pretty obvious at this point that corn is not going to be the silver bullet for the bioenergy movement, but switchgrass may possibly play a very significant role.

Remember what I said back in June of 2007 ...

... about flushing your antibiotics down the toilet?

Told you so!